ST. LOUIS -- Though the deficiencies of the Cardinals' cleanup hitters had been somewhat masked by the team's overall offensive success, the four-hole in the lineup had become a black hole that manager Mike Matheny concluded he could no longer ignore on Thursday.
And so he moved Stephen Piscotty down and Aledmys Diaz up, a switcheroo that subsequently sparked a 13-7 win over the Rockies. In Matheny's quest to optimize production, he may have found his best look yet.
"I like the look of it," noted Matt Carpenter, who set the tone from his permanent leadoff position with a career-best six RBIs. "You saw tonight Diaz did a good job in the two-hole. Piscotty responded well hitting cleanup. We have some guys who can move around."
A rotation of Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk and Brandon Moss had brought no potency to the cleanup spot through the first 40 games. In fact, the club ranked last in the Majors in average (.186) and slugging percentage (.333) from its No. 4 hitters. Piscotty emerged a natural fit for the spot, as he entered the night with a Major League-most 19 hits with runners in scoring position, most of those coming as a two-hole batter.
By the time the Cardinals rolled off a series victory, he had another two, driving home a pair of runs with first- and fourth-inning doubles. Thursday's three-hit game was already his sixth of the season. He has 17 multi-hit games in total.
"We've had a lot of different lineups, so it wasn't really that out of the norm I feel like," Piscotty said of hitting fourth. "Just put me in the lineup. Other than that first time through, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference."
Or perhaps it can.
While Piscotty's approach won't change based upon batting order position, his opportunities in run-scoring spots should increase. Behind him, Adams had a big night as well, driving in four runs for the first time since July 2014.
Of course, to move Piscotty from the second spot to the fourth spot required a capable replacement behind Carpenter. The Cardinals had that candidate in Diaz, who entered the night second in the National League in slugging percentage (.648) and average (.376).
In his two-hole debut, Diaz helped extend the Cardinals' six-run fourth with an RBI single. He scored a pair of runs, as well.
"We [figured] that eventually, this guy was going to have to hit in a more prominent spot in the lineup," Carpenter said of the rookie shortstop.
The move hadn't been made sooner, Matheny said, because he wanted to give Diaz time to assimilate to this level of competition. In his first 31 starts, Diaz batted in the lower third of the order 29 times.
"You don't want to put the weight of the world on a young player, a guy who hasn't been around this game at this level very long," Matheny said. "Try to put him in a spot where he can shine. And anytime we see something we like, we'll try to give him a little more. … Right now, he's taking advantage wherever we put him."
So, might 13 runs and 12 hits warrant another try with this lineup configuration? Matheny smiled.
"Yeah, I don't know," he said. "We'll see. Stay tuned."